Freelance photographer and glider pilot Jaanus Jagomägi tells Suzanne Zhang about flying, and the importance of training in extreme situations.
“The clouds there look really nice, let’s go there”. In what world does one have that kind of freedom? To navigate in the sky and choose your own route just because the clouds look nice. Imagine that kind of freedom; that calm and appeasing feeling you get when you see the soothing sky? Well now it is possible to actually be there. To say to yourself, ‘hey, let’s turn right after the second cloud’. We know it’s every man’s dream.
“Flying a glider is like having a bicycle in the sky”, says 20 years-old Estonian game design student Jaanus Jagomägi. It is easy and instinctive, but unlike when you are on the ground, when you fly, “all your senses are heightened, but in a more relaxed way”. A glider is a small plane with no engine that is transported by thermals; so there is a very natural feel to it, says Jagomägi. Ironic, as it is made out of glass fiber with wings spreading to at least 18 meters wide, like the LET L-13 Blanik, the most common glider in the world.
It was on the L-13 Blanik that Jagomägi first learnt to fly a glider, when he turned 16. “Flying has been in the family ever since I was a kid, since my father was a pilot”, tells Jagomägi, who remember growing up in airfields, next to gliders. He passed his first license when he was 16, which is the legal age in UK. However, the gliding license is not an easy simulation test, it requires time and practice. You are required to pass seven exams: navigation, aerodynamics, meteorology, human factors & limitations, rules & regulations, and finally, a full-time two-day medical course at the hospital. All this was easy for Jagomägi as he had several tips from his father and friends, “all airfield instructors”.
His brother recently passed his license, a birthday present since he turned 16. When asked about the different prices in Estonia and in the UK, Jagomägi raises his eyebrows and explains that “in the UK they are after your money, whereas in Estonia you can fly for very cheap because they are not being opportunistic”. You should expect 17 pounds for a 12 minutes flight and 34 pounds for a 30 minutes flight (and then up to 10 hours). In the UK, however, the prices are much higher: 200 pounds at the London Gliding Club and around 444 pounds at the South London Gliding Club. Thus getting the sky has its very own price.
When asked about fear of heights, Jagomägi replies that he “used to be scared”. The scariest part is not flying very high because “when you’re low you’re going to need to land in a random place, and you can’t see well”. The further high up you get, the safer you are, as the thermals keep you safe from hitting the ground. But is flying a glider as safe as they make it sound? “Small manoeuvre accidents are bound to happen, but you are always prepared thanks to the training”, argues Jagomägi, who has had two frightening experiences. His scariest moment was two years ago, when he was “flying in a really big triangle (when we go flying we put three points on a map)”. The weather changed abruptly and the clouds disappeared, which means that the thermals are not stable enough to carry a glider. “Looking for a place to land and not seeing anything was one of the scariest things”, says Jagomägi. His glider lost height because of the lift to drag ratio, and he was suddenly at 300 meters above ground. From what he remembered from the textbooks and the practice, he needed to land as quickly as possible in a big flat field. Because he couldn’t see any, he flew over a combine since it released a thermal from a field, which is what all textbooks advise you to do, and “got up to 900 meters, which was more than enough, although [his] heart was racing”.
Jagomägi emphasises the importance of the textbooks and practice as he recalls this adventure, telling me that “it’s not all about instincts, up in the air it’s very technical”. He recalls other experiences, when he went skydiving and again argues that for your survival, practice and the textbooks are what will save you in the end. So what about people who get scared easily and have a mediocre sense of orientation? “It’s doable”, replies Jagomägi. In his opinion, when you get up in the air, you must feel the plane, the mechanics of the manoeuvres; but this is a skill you learn to master. And GPS and maps are always a necessity on gliders, which means that really, anyone –even with fear of heights-could fly a glider.
Contact info and photo: http://foto.jaanus.cc/